A collective effort among many has brought something to an end. The sound of a chugging engine, creaking as the machine climbs methodically up the hill, then twenty minutes later returns with hydraulic pistons squeaking as it decelerates to a stop light a hundred yards away. Everyday, from four in the morning, until just after midnight, like clockwork, the sounds and whoosh of air pass by the outer hedges, contained to the ribbon of blacktop that runs to the foot of the mountains, to the inner city lights and life below. Empty it runs as a phantom of orange and florescent lights.
For years this has occurred, relied upon, complained about. As of Sunday it will be gone, and will be spoken about in past tense, with words like ‘remember’, ‘used to’, and ‘at one time’. The neighbors, ensconced behind their own hedges and fences, will at stray moments encounter each other, perhaps by chance, or while out walking the dogs; and with weary words mention the quiet and the victory that was claimed in the defeat of the ‘phantom’. Then scattered again, everyone will go off to their own lives, the separate happiness that fences and hedges help to define.
The phantom actually does have a name, Metro Line 256 to be exact. It’s run originating down in the City of Commerce, snaking its way through poor communities below, gradually rising into an income bracket that is reserved for professionals and minor movie actors. At the end of its run to the top, it stops at a Quiznos along the major strip, then makes an about turn to race back down the hill through hedges and estates, settling again into the flat lands, the sound of chicken coops and police sirens. There is always a north and south side of the tracks, no matter the wind that may come out of the most progressive person that you may cross paths with.
The empty phantom at one time or another must’ve served a purpose, with its dotted stops along the road amongst the Spanish villas and Tudor revivals. On a late fall night, it is possible to see the reason, the remnants of why it comes and goes from the places it does. At night for some reason it is more apparent, the presence of middle aged Latino women waiting in the dark for the phantom to arrive. No one knows when they arrived, perhaps before the alarm goes off to start the day, they are ferried by Charon himself up the hill to the various homes and manors. Then as the early fall nights begin, they exit back out to the stops, coins or passes in hand, and wait. The odd thing is the lack of eye contact, ‘hellos’ and ‘good evenings’ that are exchanged. There is some sort of perceived difference, a barrier that is never talked about, but recognized just as the air we breath.
Perhaps ten years ago the phantom was filled as it made its ascent, gradually emptying by the time it reached the sandwich shop. These days, it is nearly empty during its climbs up and down the hill. Maybe there is no longer a need. Or maybe it is a case that those that once rode the phantom now drive themselves, a standard of living having been found, an American dream discovered. The second option, ‘the dream’ is the one that I would like to believe is true. Who knows?
But as of Sunday night it will all come to an end. And just as we never know the reasons for anything, even that which happens within our own lives, this too will dissolve into history as just having been, in past tense, a thing that is gone, a thing that occurred for a while, but now is silent.